New American Songbook

"In 20 years of listening to hip hop, its music and stories have never left me unchallenged or unchanged. Throughout its history—from Kool Herc to KRS and beyond—hip hop has told the story of America through the styles of noir, memoir, jazz and rhythm and blues, comic books and blockbuster action movies. It is everything we say we are, and those things we maintain we are not. This is the new American Songbook." - KMUW commentator, Zack Gingrich-Gaylord  

New American Songbook can be heard on alternate Mondays, or through iTunes.

When 24-year old Chance the Rapper accepted the 2017 BET Humanitarian Award, his brief speech touched on a lot of big ideas: school reform, police brutality and black empowerment.

Let’s start with an easy question: How does language work? Okay, maybe not so easy, but over in one corner of this question is a field of thought called semiotics, and we’ll need a couple of its basic concepts in about one minute.

The value of a hard day’s work is one of those mostly uncontroversial shared beliefs in American society: it’s good, period. Even across economic classes, work is seen as a necessary part of life, though opinions on what work is worth might vary. Most of our ideas about work come from people who have been successful at work, which seems reasonable if you don’t think too hard about the vested interest those successful people have in maintaining a status quo that has worked so well for them.

Back before the internet, finding new music was often a matter of finding new friends. 

In hip hop, it’s not unusual for strong personalities to go up against one another—we call it beef. But the song “You Are Not a Riot” by the Oakland-based outfit called The Coup puts an interesting spin on beef with its subject, described in the subtitle as “An RSVP from David Siquieros to Andy Warhol”.

When Los Angeles erupted in violence in 1992, I was thirteen and in eighth-grade in Wichita. I don’t remember teachers talking much about it, but other students did.

I didn’t grow up with hip hop—I came to it late from punk rock, when punk had turned bubblegum and hip hop was in yet another of its golden ages in the mid-90’s.

In the early 1900s, an Irish immigrant named Mary Mallon worked as a personal cook for several wealthy families.

Her tenure also coincided with several outbreaks of typhoid, a bacterial infection that--in its most severe cases--can be fatal. It was eventually determined that Mary was a carrier of the disease and for the next few years she alternated between quarantine and a kind of life on the run as she continued to insist on working as a cook, which inevitably led to more typhoid outbreaks. She would spend the final 23 years of her life in quarantine.

  

Spring is finally here, and along with it comes one of my favorite activities: playing music really loud in my car. 

The 2016 album “Telefone” from Chicago emcee Noname opens with a song centered on her grandmother. As Noname struggles with growing fame and its attendant problems, memories of her grandmother enter the verse, grounding her in a reality that is also grounded in reality. Here, a line like "don’t grow up too soon, don’t blow the candles out, don’t let them cops get you," is encompassing in a way that nostalgia often isn’t—it’s complex and sad, wistful and heartbroken.

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